September 23, 2020

Avatar vs. Legend of Korra: the Feminist Debate

Hands down, Korra would beat Aang in a fight.

Women simply cannot be heroes without the inevitable debate of who is better: the male protagonist or the female protagonist? Is it Superwoman or Superman? They scoff at the idea of female Ghostbusters but welcome the same men back again three times over. Now, the crowd that will not allow us to have nice things — sorry, the sexists — has spread the poison to one of my favorite shows ever: “Avatar: The Last Airbender.”  

“Avatar:The Last Airbender” is famous for its characters on a journey of learning to master bending the elements and stop a dictatorship from rising to power, not the blue people running around a forest trying to stop climate change. After airing in 2005, It hit Netflix in May while its sequel “Legend of Korra” started streaming Aug. 14. “Legend of Korra” follows the titular character, Korra, and her Avatar journey. The show aired in 2012.  Korra is a reincarnation of Aang — a process known as the Avatar Cycle. 

With this reincarnation came the dreaded question no woman will ever be the answer to: who was the better Avatar? 

The results poured in. With some spoilers ahead, I’d advise to stop reading if you’re in the middle of watching either shows. The argument was Korra was weaker for a number of reasons. She lost the spiritual connection with the other Avatars — one of the driving forces behind why the Avatar was one of the most respected, powerful people in their world — as she was being beat nearly to death by the villain of the season. She was tortured, poisoned and had her bending taken away all in the span of four seasons. Aang nearly gave up control of the Avatar state for a girl he liked a lot.

There’s never any mention of what Aang did wrong as an Avatar. Everyone turns a blind eye at his mistakes to claim he was the better Avatar. Don’t get me wrong, I love Aang. I think his show is nearly perfect. It hits a stride around the middle of season two and never misses after that. The Legend of Korra almost had to drag me through season two. 

There’s a difference in the writing. Aang’s show was clearly targeted for the kids, while Korra leaned more towards the kids who grew up with Aang, like me. However, that doesn’t stop either show from tackling hard themes: genocide, imperialism, socioeconomic justice, and oppression are just a few examples. The formula is the same for each, but somehow, some way, Aang comes out on top in the debate for the better Avatar.

This could be because people are purists at heart — don’t mess with something that isn’t broken. On the other hand, it also could be because of sexism. 

Right from the first few scenes, you witness Korra’s crazy strength. She can bend three of four elements. Her firebending teachers even comment on her power, noting that she lacks restraint. Aang had every ounce of restraint but not nearly the power Korra had until many years after his show had ended. Korra would definitely beat Aang in a fight.

In terms of cultural impact, Korra also takes the cake here. In the final scene of “Legend of Korra,” a relationship starts between Korra and another female character, Asami. This made Korra and her girlfriend the first queer couple in Nickelodeon history. A bisexual woman of color would have — and did not — happen on Avatar. We received the great romance between Katara and Aang, but there was no LGBTQIA+ representation.  Given that there is a stark difference between the time the two shows aired, I will give “Avatar” the benefit of doubt. 

No matter what category examined, Korra comes out on top. So, let me settle the debate for you, Korra is the better Avatar.

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